Those of us who are into super-bold flavors and don’t shy away from spice are lucky to have such a proliferation of Indian cuisine in the Valley. And even the tail end of summer in Las Vegas is perfect for some extra capsaicin on our plates. Many warm-weather regions, especially those close to the equator, have a diet rich in chilies and bold spices. The theory goes that eating hot food on a hot day cools the body by making you sweat.
I’m a fan of spicy food and have eaten Level 10 Thai spicy with a smile. But Indian-spicy is a whole other beast. India, after all, is where the infamous bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper, was discovered, and the cuisine’s vindaloos are known for being insanely hot. Origin India understands there is a balance between spice, heat and flavor, and covers all these bases in its tasting menu of classic Indian dishes, any of which you can order mild, medium or hot—at your own risk.
Act 1: Tandoori Shrimp, Lamb Seekh Kebab, Chicken Tikka Kebab
The tandoor is a clay oven for roasting meat and baking bread, and kebabs—usually skewered meats—figure prominently in Indian cuisine. For this course, the shrimp, lamb and chicken are presented on one plate, so that you get a sampling of everything. I like the shrimp from the tandoor, but there’s nothing quite like meat that has been grilled on a stick. The lamb seekh kebab is made of ground meat, and flavored with root spices such as ginger and turmeric, adding a nice sharp touch. Chicken tikka is one of the most familiar dishes of the cuisine. Origin India’s version is made from the thigh—the already-juicy cut is infused with more flavor after being marinated in cumin and spiced yogurt overnight, taking on a rich, red hue.
Act 2: Chicken Makhani, Lamb Nihari, Aloo Gobi and Saag Paneer
The next course comes family style, which is typical of Indian dining. You can even do away with formalities and eat with your hand (right hand only, please; it’s a faux pas in Indian culture to eat with the left). Pair with saffron-scented rice or warm naan, the buttery, fluffy flatbread that is perfect for scooping each bite from your plate.
The chicken tikka gets reincarnated as chicken makhani; this time, rather than being served simply roasted, it is tossed in a tomato cream sauce and finished with clarified butter. Lamb nihari features sautéed lamb with aromatics such as ginger and garlic, then tossed in a fragrant cumin sauce spiked with fennel and more ginger. Both are saucy and bold; if you feel like you need another dose of flavor, eat it with the garlic or chili-and-cheese varieties of naan.
Vegetarians can order the menu completely meat-free, and there are a couple of vegetable-based dishes you definitely won’t want to miss. There’s aloo gobi, a dry mixture of potato and cauliflower tossed with turmeric for that deep yellow color. Saag paneer is one of my favorite Indian dishes, featuring spinach that’s cooked down so much that it’s almost creamed, with bits of house-made paneer cheese, a mild, spongy cheese that is a bit like tangy, firm tofu.
Act 3: Almond Kulfi, Carrot Halwa and Gulab Jamun
Indian desserts tend to peak on the side of tooth-achingly sweet. But Origin India’s gulab jamun, a deep-fried ball made from paneer cheese soaked in a cardamom-scented syrup, hits the right note. The dessert course is also served three to the plate—the gulab jamun is accompanied with a scoop of Indian ice cream, or kulfi, and carrot halwa, which is like carrot cake … without the cake.